Explosive devices found in vehicle of B.C. bank robbers killed by police

The chief of the Saanich, B.C., police department says explosive devices were found in a vehicle associated with the suspects who were gunned down outside a bank.

Chief Const. Dean Duthie says an RCMP explosive disposal unit was able to transfer the devices from a vehicle to a local landfill, the Hartland Landfill Facility, and destroy them on Wednesday.

Two suspects were killed, and six members of the Greater Victoria Emergency Response Team (GVERT) were injured when shots were fired outside the bank late Tuesday morning. Witnesses described hearing dozens of shots back to back just after 11 a.m. PT.

Duthie says three of six officers wounded by gunfire remain in hospital, including one who is in intensive care, while another officer will require more surgeries over the next few months, while three officers were treated and released and are recovering at home.

“Some residents and businesses remain unable to return to their homes and places of work as officers continue to process the crime scene,” Duthie said at a news conference on Wednesday.

He says police are still investigating the possibility of a third suspect, although they don’t believe there’s a risk to the public. He said police were acting on “vague information” with regards to a possible third person. Investigators are currently working to identify the suspects.

No further details were provided on the nature of the explosive devices, what firearms were used in the shooting, and how many people were in the bank at the time of the shooting.

Duthie says the Vancouver Island Integrated Major Crime Unit (VIIIMCU) has now taken charge of the investigation. A concurrent investigation has also been launched by the Independent Investigations Office, the oversight body which reviews all police actions that result in death or serious harm.

In a statement, the VIIMCU said it is “actively involved” in what it is treating as an attempted murder investigation.

“We respect that there is significant public interest in yesterday’s events, but at this time we are not able to confirm identities, background or motive,” said Supt. Sanjaya Wijayakoon.

Suspects believed to have worn body armour

Police said the shooting started outside the bank, though it wasn’t immediately clear who shot first. The suspects were armed, and it’s believed they were wearing body armour.

The bank is in a largely residential neighbourhood of Saanich, about a kilometre west of the University of Victoria campus on southern Vancouver Island. The shooting started as the plaza was full of people running errands at nearby shops or stopping at restaurants for lunch.

Three of the injured officers are members of the Saanich Police Department, and three are members of the Victoria Police Department.

Saanich Police are joined by Victoria Police and RCMP as they responded to gunfire involving multiple people at the Bank of Montreal in Saanich, B.C., on Tuesday. (Chad Hipolito/The Canadian Press)

Saanich police said they were “overwhelmed” by messages of support after the incident.

“Your kind words go a long way in difficult times like these, and we are sharing your comments with our officers,” read a tweet on Wednesday.

The city block around the bank remained closed on Wednesday, as did businesses in the mall across the street.

Saanich Chief Const. Dean Duthie described the scene Tuesday as “chaotic, tragic, dynamic and violent” and said it was “truly amazing” that employees of the bank and members of the public didn’t get hurt.

“This level of violence in my service with Saanich, being just shy of 27 years, there has been nothing to this extent in my experience,” Duthie said.

Saanich police have asked anyone with video of the incident to submit the footage through its evidence submission portal.

Witness says hostages taken

Shelli Fryer, who lives in nearby Langford, was in the BMO branch on Tuesday for an appointment when the robbery occurred.

Fryer was in a meeting with the bank manager when she says she heard what seemed like a loud explosion of some kind and the bank manager calmly told her, “We’re being robbed.”

The manager then got a key, and Fryer said she crouched down when she saw an armed robber in the doorway.

“In the doorway, is a guy standing there with an assault rifle. Balaclava, vest, some guards on his legs. Just standing there, quietly, standing there, calm,” she said.

The aftermath of a shootout between police and bank robbers on Tuesday. A witness says she made a 911 call to police at 11:04 a.m., and police arrived at the scene a little over 15 minutes later. (Joan Flood via Twitter)

Fryer says she picked up her phone and called 911 — around 11:04 a.m. — whispering on the floor of the office while the manager led the robbers to the bank vault.

She describes being left alone for a brief moment, before being taken to the back of the bank where the other bank patrons and staff were huddled.

“It was very, very quiet. It wasn’t the frenetic, crazy, chaotic what you imagine it would have been,” she said.

“Everybody got up and everybody cleared out, but they forgot about me. So I was just left there. And while I was there and it probably wasn’t more than, like five or 10 minutes, but it seemed like forever.”

The robbers — Fryer said she thought there were three, but police later told reporters they’re not so sure —  put all 22 people who were in the bank against a wall in a back hallway and they waited for what felt like an eternity, she said.

“We heard nothing at all of what was transpiring outside, we couldn’t hear sirens.”

She then heard in a loud voice, “Police!” and then a hail of gunfire, and everybody ran to hide.

Fryer was emotional when she commended the police who responded to the incident.

“My tears are for them. My tears are for their families. My tears are for the bravery, that they’re going to get up and do it again today,” she said.

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